Peaking out of a hole knocked into drywall are multi-colored bricks. Another spot reveals a carefully-designed circular window.

The findings are just bits and pieces right now. Nothing too stunning. But what they imply is much more interesting. Underneath the ceilings and white-painted dry wall of the old Plains Furniture store are the remnants of Nolan’s Chevrolet dealership, a 1920s staple in downtown Casper.

Old photographs show those same bricks and circular window to help prove the building’s origins.

And the discovery may well save that old furniture store from becoming a parking lot.

Community Development Director Liz Becher led City Council members on a flashlight-lit tour of the building Tuesday to share the recent findings.

City officials — who purchased the building for about $3 million last year — looked over old photographs and peered up through removed ceiling tiles at metal beams and the circular window that once overlooked the front of the business.

A dozen steps led down to a damp, low-ceiling basement where the company stored vehicle parts and other equipment.

It caused some controversy when City Council purchased the structure in early 2016: Some questioned the price tag, as an appraisal for the property came in at about $2.7 million, and others were concerned about the uncertainly surrounding the building’s purpose.

City council decided earlier this year to demolish the structure and possibly use the space for parking, but after Tuesday’s tour, Mayor Kenyne Humphrey said council will have to reconsider.

“I suspect that (this discovery) will change the direction of what council will want to do, but we will have to talk about it at a later date,” she said.

The mayor added that she was tempted to tear down more of the current structure to see what else they might find.

Vice Mayor Ray Pacheco was also intrigued.

Calling the discovery “wonderful,” the vice mayor said council members need some time to process all the new information before deciding on their next steps.

City Council members weren’t the only ones on the tour: About 40 other local residents tagged along.

Kathy Dolan was intrigued by the recent discovery, because she’s passionate about historic preservation.

“When you lose the symbols of your history, you lose your history,” she explained. “I think it’s good to know where we came from.”

City Planner Craig Collins said he only expected to see city officials on the tour, but was thrilled that other citizens were interested in viewing the dealership’s remains.

“The public needs to know about this kind of stuff because not everyone appreciates it,” he explained. “Some people just want to clear [old buildings] and make room for the new, but it’s part of our history.”

Pointing out that the western part of the United States tends to have fewer historic buildings than its eastern counterpart, Becher said she thinks it’s especially important for this region of the country to try and preserve older structures.

Although many were shocked by the discovery, at least one Casper resident was already aware of the building’s secret.

Virgil Smith, 87, said he started working for the Plains Furniture company right after it opened and remembers that the business opted to build around the remains of the dealership instead of knocking it down. He didn’t know the specifics but said it was cheaper to use parts of the old building.

Smith, who retired from the company in 1995, said he worked in repairs and delivery.

He also recalls hearing that the building used to be a Ford dealership prior to being overtaken by Chevrolet.

Oddly enough, this isn’t the building’s first historic discovery.

Back in October, City Council learned that the building next door — a restored 1920s fire station that now houses commercial space — had a garage that was later covered by the furniture store.

Anthony Jacobsen with Stateline Architects told Council during an October meeting that he found the garage’s remains.

“We get in Plains Furniture, pop up some ceiling tiles and lo and behold there’s still cornice, there’s still all the detailing,” he said at the time.

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Katie King covers the city of Casper


Local Government Reporter

Katie King joined the Star-Tribune in 2017 and primarily covers issues related to local government. She previously worked as a crime reporter in the British Virgin Islands. Originally from Virginia, Katie is a graduate of James Madison University.

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